Euca Works

In my childhood the most popular home remedy for cough was inhalation of eucalyptus vapors obtained either from the oil, or from the dried plant material from the drug store. Ever since then, this method has seemed to me the most pleasantly smelling physiotherapy.

As an adult textile artist I found that dyeing with eucalyptus is quite popular midst the Natural Dyers – no wonder, those nice red to orange prints are so tempting with their vividness on the background of not-so-easy-to-get bright colors from the other natural materials.

Driven by my natural curiosity, not that long ago, I started looking for a chance to try this exotic dye material myself. Since I live in a hundred perсent eauca-free environment, I was somewhat restricted in sources for the testing material.

My very first experiments with euca happened to have unexpected results, if not frustrating. Not only did they bring my childhood memories of the multiple chest colds, but they also differed dramatically  from what was promised by the highly praised source.

Gradually my childhood memories shifted to more pleasant tonality, and I started to get some understanding about cause and effect:

The main fact to be taken into consideration is that the euca is not a local plant for this area. Thus, various plant material, dry or fresh, sprout or mature, from any of the 700 eucalyptus species, are unobtainable. Which means the main condition of getting truly amazing results is infeasible.

Step by step, pulling my theoretical knowledge and summarising my further practical results, I seem to have finally figured out the essence of the matter for myself.

While the most of the Natural Dyes are adjective, and we need hardly mention that chemistry rules here, the dye obtained from eucalyptus is substantive, i.e. the one that dissolves in water. This means that you can get color from eucalyptus simply by processing the plant material with water.  

The reason for not getting the right color, or no coloris having the wrong (of all the 700 species) euca type  as the dyeing material. By the type I mean both wrong specie and/or wrong part of the plant. As simple as that. And no magical recipe ( I hoped so much to find one!).

Any additives to the process can only enhance the present dyeing quality, but it is not possible to switch, say, from no-color to red. This conclusion I got based on my practical drills so far.   Now I am glad I can render some visualization here.              

 I have been lucky to get various euca species plant material at my possession, so I decided not to miss this opportunity and run a comparative  visual test, which I think might be of interest for the guys who do not have euca in their list of endemic plants.

For the test:     I have chosen sample leaves according to my understanding. Considering the shape, size, etc. of the leaves and branches, one can tell these are different species. No taxonomic classification, sorry!

The clear water with salinity as low, as 61 mg/dm3,  was boiled and poured over the leaves (the TDS measured with the meter). The leaves were left for as short as 3 to 5 min, just to cool down enough to put my fingers into. No mordants or modifies used.

I took a piece of viscose for this test, as it is known to be the most difficult surface to treat with natural dyes, as it has the least affinity for the plant dyes. I assumed that obtaining distinct prints that way would not be possible and I wanted to skip the prints part, as nice euca prints are already a well-known phenomenon today. And my idea for this test was to observe a substantive dye extraction and not be carried away by the artistic part.

01euc 03euc 04euc

As it is seen from the pix above some leaves are just over full with dye; it looks like the dye is already there on the surface. Some are just neutrally colored. 

The following was actually a surprise! Meaning, I assumed the dye should be easily obtained. But, Gee, that was fast!

In less than 2 min a leaf started bleeding bright red color! A minute later another specie bled vivid orange… What can I say? The expriment could have been terminated right there, for I got the proof for my guess-work.

05euc 06euc 07euc

The neutrally colored leaves below did not yield any dye ever; even after 1,5 h simmering there was no coloring effect worth mentioning.

Meanwhile, the dye extraction continued and more of the leaves yielded their red and orange shades on the cloth; no heat applied or anything.

And this only after a few minutes spent in hot water! What about an hour or a day soaking? Unbelievable!

08euc 09euc 10euc 11euc 12euc 13euc 14euc 15euc

All the above pix were taken before simmering, during a really short period of time from 7 to 15 minutes, I guess, when I was taking the leaves out of the water they were soaking in and arranging them on the cloth surface.

This, usually preliminary part of the dyeing process, in this case turned out to be a most informative and obvious and I decided it states the point all-right. So, I am skipping the after-simmering illustration.

Well, I assume that the above enlightenment  along with my sheer amazement, looks probably ridiculous to the guys who grew under the shade of the euca tree forest.

If I were a child of such forest, or at least had an eucalyptus tree or two in the area near by, I would definitely stick to the euca species as my major dyeing plant!

But, as the Reality stipulates otherwise, I am getting back to my lovely local endemics, not so approachable at times, but surely so promising

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30 responses to “Euca Works

  • Teepee12

    I have eucalyptus all over my house just because I love the way it looks and smells. I did not know it was also a dye. Nice to learn something new.

  • Irit Dulman

    Thanks for sharing your experiment Elena. It is worth a try. I just wondering… When I began my euca testing two years ago, I tested every types I found here in Israel ( more than 70). I made two kind of tests for each type of euca. Printing tests and dye bath tests. To my surprise, I received a very strange results and very different between this two methods. For example, While a leaf gave a very strong red print I got gold shades when boiling the same leaves for dye bath. Until now I don’t have any answer to this 🙂 and I wonder if it is not influence this method of testing that you try.

    Irit

    • theimportanceofprocrastination

      Dear Irit,

      Thank you for visiting my blog! It’s really great to hear from you! Thank you!

      The different results when the same type plant material is used for contact dyeing=printing and for the dye bath, may be explained by considering such a factor as lengh of bath, or liquor ratio. Say, when contact dyeing/printing with maple leaves (certain conditions provided) you can get very distinct black prints, while the dye bath with maple leaves will not yield the same intense black color, not even black; to get the same shade of black you will need many times more maple leaves. So, liquor ratio (length of bath) is the most important factor that determines the shade on the fabric after the dyeing process.

      My idea of this test was rather to show that different types of euca possess different shades of dye, and some of the leaves can yield dye really well, while the other will be be of no use at all, and the only way to get really nice shades on the fabric is obtaining the right type of euca in the first place. Sometimes guys, who do not have eucas in the list of their regional plants and thus do not have a chance to use euca for dyeing, stay under a delusion regarding euca dyeing properties. I have been there and know it first hand! Thought maybe my info here will help them to clarify the situation a bit.

      Thank you, Irit, so much for being here! I really appreciate it!

      Elena

      • Irit Dulman

        I think you are right and it is the liquor ratio that makes the different.
        I been there too, and in the begging I found all the leaves that don’t yield the strong red 🙂 it tools time to find the right ones.
        I read now few of your posts here. Fabulous. I will come to visit more often 🙂

  • Margo Duke

    Elena, you’ve done it once again – providing the spark that I need through your wonderful sharing. I love your experiments and am always in a search for euco leaves as none grow around here in Maryland. I’m wondering what type of climate they thrive in? I’m wondering about SC which has more moderate temps (we will soon move there) I know California but that is so far from me – so an occasional find spotted at a florist or a small parcel from a new friend afar has to suffice whichmakes my experiments limited and once I get them in hand I use them sparingly else they will be gone and sometimes disappointment when I unbundle only to find not much in the way of color – so now you’ve given me a way to make the most of what I have available! Is there any place to order some dried that anyone knows of?

    Thank you everyone for your thoughts – I love reading them all and learning.

    • theimportanceofprocrastination

      Dear Margo,

      Thank you a lot for your nice words about my work! This is valuable!

      I also wish the variety of eucas grew in my area, but there is none! I work with euca only from time to time.

      But I found so much joy in working with my endemic plants on a regular basis. And working with local endemics is rewarding too! I think if I had different euca types always at hand, I would not have learnt that much and would not have broaden my horizons in my art work. The urge to get some interesting color from what ever is available from my garden has actually lead me to some serious discoveries. So, on the second thought, I am glad there is no local eucas around!

      I wish you all possible success with your local plants! And in SC with all the oak types, sweetgum, red maple, dogwood, sassafras, catalpa, etc. you’ll have plenty of leaves to work with! we do not have most of those here, the area I live in is technically a desert, the only European desert it is. So, good luck! And thank you once again.

  • Tatiana

    What an interesting test! I always find the leaf testing boring and time consuming, but your test proofed me wrong. I’m leaving in the area with a lot of euca and use it a lot. Your type of testing is much more easy than conventional boiling or steaming to detect the color. Thank you so much! I hope it works with Cyprus euca. But I have no idea about my waters salinity, PH is almost neutral. Shell I use distilled boiled water or it does not really matter? Thank you in advance, Elena!

    • theimportanceofprocrastination

      Hello Tatiana,
      So nice to know you find my primitive approach/methods interesting! Thank you for the kind words!

      I am sure you can get lots of interesting results with Cyprus euca. And yes, when you pour boiling water onto the euca leaves you immediately see what color they yield and this way to figure it out what color you’ll get on your prints after boiling/steaming. That’s, of course, very general idea, and the more you work with leaves, the more interesting details become revealed.
      As for the water type to use for the dye bath, for my demonstration I used purified water to prove that euca leaves dyeing properties are huge and without any assistance from chemical additives can perform greatly, unlike some other plant material, and for that purpose I wanted to exclude any influence from the minerals/metal salts which can be found in the water. And here’s the moment for the chemistry of process to be mentioned. But I think it will make my reply a bit lengthy!
      Let me put it this way, the results I ever got using distilled water were by far not so satisfying, as the results I got with tap water! So, I do not see why you would need distilled water, unless you wonna run some specific test, or anything like that. I would also recommend to use any other types of water you can get and see if you can get anything interesting with those. I will be posting on my results I got from the water from my local natural source soon, as well.
      Thank you for asking, Tatiana, and I hope my answer is helpful! I’ll gladly share my knowledge, feel free to ask questions.

      • Tatiana

        Thank you, Elena! You could see my testing on my FB page now. Thank you so much! And you right, color is coming out without using any chemicals or rust. But believe it or not I got my results by using distilled water.I think we have to much salt in our water. I have to make a time and visit some processionals here. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

      • theimportanceofprocrastination

        Your testing looks great, just saw it on FB. Of course, euca works with distilled water because it has a strong dyeing potential! The tap water would have been no worse though! Only maybe for your kettle, if you use it to boil the water. Sometimes salt in water is an advantage rather than a problem in terms of natural dyes.
        Thank you for appreciating my work!

  • mazzaus

    This is such an interesting experiment. I got colour bleeding out of a leaf in the first few minutes when I had my first attempt at dyeing with eucalypts after reading India Flint’s Eco-Colour. So exciting! I am lucky to live surrounded by eucs… but Ukraine surely also has amazing endemic species. Thanks for your post.

  • Ginny Huber

    Hi Elena: Nice work and experiments here! Thanks much. I , too, collect Eucalyptus from many sources here: florists and friends (California) and there are some species at the zoo here in Seattle and local possibly globules- a few streets away. I’ve not gotten that almost scarlet red, even from the ones I used when in Italy (at Irit’s class) last year and also I keep mine for while, soaking until I get a chance to use them..it’s always helpful to see what people discover..hopefully, this year I’ll do more printing and learn more..

  • Sweetpea

    Thank you for posting your experiment, Elena, and providing so much thoughtful information ~ and questioning! I’ve had leaves (not eucs) “bleed” in that way…immediately…and it is very telling indeed.

    I always enjoy my visits here.

  • Deb

    Very interesting post. I was wondering, did the silvery round shaped leaves at the bottom right-hand side of the first picture yield any color? We have a friend that has a tree with leaves very similar, I am wondering if I should raid his fallen leaves.

    • theimportanceofprocrastination

      Thanks, Deb, for reading!

      Yes, they did, kinda orange to brownish shade.
      Having a tree near by I would certainly be testing it for dyeing properties all year round and keeping notes! You know, Spring leaves versus mid Summer, sprout versus mature, leaves from the South side versus those from the North side, and so on!

      Good luck!

      • Deb

        Thanks for the info. I guess I will be wandering down on the weekend to check for fallen leaves. If it works I might have to plant a tree.

      • theimportanceofprocrastination

        Welcome!

        You know, I’ve been planting plants for dyeing on my lot for some time now. And there are already quite a few, trees, bushed, etc. As soon as I come across with euca variety suitable for the local climate, I will surely plant one!

      • Deb

        How cold does it get in the winter where you are located?

      • theimportanceofprocrastination

        Well, my location is the Northern coast of the Black Sea, it is the South of Ukraine. The area we live is known to be the only European desertб the area is truly unique.
        The climate here is tough, as at Summer time the temp can be as high as 45C/100-120F and up in the shade. Usually very dry. Often windy. We have pine tree wood man-planted over a hundred years ago to prevent the sands approach the city. In Winter the temp are usually relatively mild, like today is it +12C/about 55F. But there can be a couple of weeks when the temp drops down at -24C/it is lesser than 0F! Like last year due to the seriously low temps about 75% of the local vine yards (which the area is famous for) was lost.

        On my lot I usually cover the most temp sensitive plants for the Winter.

      • Deb

        That is extreme for temperatures. But very interesting. I learn so much through this blogging world.

  • Terrie

    Thank you so much for sharing the info and experiments. We’ve lots of species here in Hong Kong but not all give nice color. I’m really into eco print. It’s fun and amazing.

  • wendyfe

    Thank you, Elena! So kind of you to share in this way. That is indeed enlightening info and I am certainly going to try it based on your experiments. Some comments and questions: I am supposing that the euca plants were relatively fresh? i.e., not dried by you before dyeing with them? Like you, I can obtain euca from the florist in a more or less fresh condition. We get ours mostly from California. Sometimes friends bring me dried euca leaves from parks in Israel. That would mean a plant of a different age, likely, and plants gathered from the ground, unlike your euca here. . We have read that euca leaf maturity is a factor in dye content, with naturally dry, fallen leaves providing most red or orange. But your experiments indicate that freshness, age and maturity are not necessarily critical to obtaining the coveted red or orange – most info available tells us that dry leaves are the best source. Neither is type of processing or duration of resting time. Heat from the boiling water seems to be a critical factor for at least some species of euca, irrespective of other conditions. I am supposing that pH of your water is not critical, either. I have tried pre soaking eucs (the round E. globulus, immature leaves ) in cold water for long periods but noted no advantage to this method…Your experiments show that unless we test claims by others for ourselves, unless we experiment and subsequently share our results, we will always remain in the dark. Thank you for your work that opens doors!

    Wendy

    • theimportanceofprocrastination

      Thank you, Wendy! I am glad you’ve found my writings interesting!
      As for the freshness, it took me about couple of weeks to collect versatile euca material, some of it was more dry, some was more fresh at the moment I got it. But it’s been in my studio for a while before this test, so I actually not so sure about freshness. I definitely did not do anything to dry it before testing, no extra heat applied or anything…

      And again, thank you so much!

      Elena

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